LG Sargent deplored new common understandings

In response to public discussion on whether the serpent was literal, a number of ecclesias in the UK passed motions banning those who held such views from their platforms and circulated their position to garner collective support.  Bro Sargent supported individual autonomy but deplored defining common understandings of the statement of faith and the spread/publication of such positions which he saw as dangerous to unity.  Of course LG Sargent would be condemned by the {now withdrawn} Motion 8 even though he would agree with elements of it.  His counsel below remains relevant.
The anxiety which is shown lest our heritage of faith should be whittled away by broadening interpretations is appreciated, and there is no doubt that this is shared in a great many ecclesias. The questions arise what is the right course to take, and on what issues. A threefold object should be in view: (1) To preserve the essentials of faith; (2) maintain a genuine unity; and (3) to leave room for reasonable freedom of discussion on matters of interpretation.

Previous editorial comments will have indicated the kind of misgiving which these letters arouse. It is sound that ecclesias should shoulder their own responsibilities rather than relying on any outside source to solve their problems; and it is the right and duty of ecclesias to select for their platforms those brethren whom they feel can best serve in the upbuilding of spiritual life. When, however, ecclesias publish decisions of the kind here indicated, both the nature of the decisions and the fact of publication raise certain considerations.

In general, definitions which are in effect additions to the Statement of Faith adopted by individual ecclesias are to be deplored. The possibility that the meaning of the wording of the B.A.S.F. could be made so elastic as to cover almost any view has been recognized previously in editorial comment, and must be guarded against: but the attempt to avoid this danger by adding a series of definitions could bring an almost equal danger in another way. Once the process of defining has started, where will it end? Individual ecclesias might go on adding definitions every time a particular subject was under discussion until the B.A.S.F. became a tangle of amplifications, not always well considered, and some of which might exclude brethren whose general faithfulness was not in question. This could have the effect of repressing all genuine thinking until our teaching could become a mere repetition lacking in the force and conviction that can only come from personal searching of the Scriptures. I myself would say that I have gained from the discussion on the Serpent in Eden, though the effect has been to confirm my own belief in the literalness of the narrative. It has, however, become evident that not all the objections to the symbolic view were valid, nor are all the conclusions as to its possible theological consequences sound doctrine. As was pointed out in an editorial last month, the primary fact is that man was temptable, and he fell; the means of temptation is secondary, though important, and in any case Adam was not deceived, and he yielded to his own nature. Brethren who themselves have no doubt on the subject may none the less feel embarrassment if it is made a test which openly distinguishes them from others whom they gladly fellowship. The question of Adam’s creation, however, must be recognized to raise much deeper issues.

This leads to the other point, the fact of publication which must influence other ecclesias. While we feel it right to comply with the request of two of the larger ecclesias, we do so with misgiving lest the mere fact of publication should set up a dividing line which would be a step towards division in fellowship. We do not believe that the ecclesias concerned intend such a consequence; they may even be persuaded that their action, which deliberately stops short of raising questions of fellowship, may have the contrary effect.

While replies to circulars sent out by the Birmingham (Central) and Glasgow (South) ecclesias have shown the genuine and widespread concern at the present position in the ecclesial world, they have also shown a strong desire to avoid a major division. Experience has shown not only the sorrow and heart-ache which divisions can cause; not only the destructive bitterness which can be aroused, though this is evil enough. The prejudices, the distortions and misrepresentations, which too often mark such crises, must surely “grieve the holy Spirit of God”, for it is not always truth in the wider sense that prevails; and signs are not wanting that such devilish things might even now develop if “bitter zeal” (James 3 : 14) ran its course. But beyond all this, divisions have proved their damaging effect on the Body as a whole, which can be left debilitated by the turning of energies to internal conflict when they should be devoted to building up in the things of the Spirit. Doubtless there have been times when division was necessary to preserve the Truth, though almost always other factors entered in; but God grant that in the years that may remain to us we may solve our problems and preserve our heritage without such crude and cruel surgery. We look with sinking of heart on anything that might bring division nearer.—EDITOR

Sargent, LG (1965). The Christadelphian, 102(electronic ed.), page 460.

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One thought on “LG Sargent deplored new common understandings

  1. Pingback: A common understanding? A strategic retreat. | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

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